Mark Douglas: Alan Pardew a critical figure as Newcastle hit the skids

Newcastle United have some dark clouds hovering over them. Mark Douglas looks at their current run of bad form

Gareth Copley/Getty Images Alan Pardew manager of Newcastle United
Alan Pardew manager of Newcastle United

It is no big deal, really. Call off the inquest, park your concerns and resume the season ticket direct debits.

You see, Michael Owen tells us everything is alright at St James’ Park. “For any outsider looking at St James’ Park it is difficult to understand why there is a feeling it has gone wrong,” he wrote in his national newspaper column on Monday.

Later on, he continued: “It is as if the club is uncomfortable with the notion of being ‘comfortable’ in the mid-table zone of the Premier League when, as a stepping stone to further success, that is a decent achievement.”

As St James’ Park emptied rapidly following Tottenham’s third goal of a dispiriting midweek horror show by a thoroughly demoralised Newcastle team, it was impossible to ignore the dark clouds now hovering over the club. Decisions taken since the end of last season were always going to catch up with the club and as Spurs walked in four unanswered goals and prevented United from scoring for the sixth time in seven games, it felt like that process had begun.

In that context, a league table that shows them in the top half is nothing more than a convenient distraction from the reckoning that is taking place at the club. What Owen has ignored or missed are the little things that have eaten away at enthusiasm: the constant mistruths, the treatment of cup competitions, the scandalous disregard for the people who walk through the gates. Mid-table is not a “stepping stone” in that context: rather half-way to a sort of numbing purgatory. Or worse, on Wednesday’s evidence.

Clearly, there are fundamental problems at St James’ Park but what has not really been thoroughly explored in all of this is how central the manager is to these issues.

There is a theory that Pardew is a weak figure at Newcastle, hamstrung by the whims of Ashley’s ownership and doomed to see his best efforts evaporate into mediocrity simply because the club is run in a way that makes sustained success impossible for any boss.

For the proponents of this point of view, the sale of Yohan Cabaye from under the nose of the manager in January is another example of how Ashley and his cronies continue to undermine a capable, competent manager.

But there is an alternative view that must be acknowledged: namely that a change of manager might just change a black and white agenda that is getting darker by the week.

As he railed against players who had come up woefully short on Wednesday night, one observer spoke of an “end game” feel to his post-match debrief. A claim that every player at Newcastle during his four-year spell has “improved” seemed to jar with the evidence of Wednesday night.

Some players are merely out-of-form or suffering from a lack of confidence. Vurnon Anita, Mathieu Debuchy and Tim Krul are all improvers under Pardew, but were poor in midweek. They will get better as soon as others return.

With other players, though, there are legitimate concerns that the malaise has become DNA deep. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Hatem Ben Arfa and Sylvain Marveaux all look absolutely shot. Papiss Cisse looks finished too. These are good, international players who struggle to get close to United’s team. Who takes responsibility for that? How has Moussa Sissoko been here for a year and failed to find a position where he is actually effective?

Pardew enjoyed eight weeks of scintillating results after the last derby, which is a massive factor in his favour. But the depth of the team’s lows since April has been worrying. They have been beaten by three or more goals in seven of their last 33 Premier League games. That’s an unacceptable 21%, more than Fulham, Norwich and Sunderland. The hammerings come too often.

Of course, managing Newcastle under an unpopular owner is tough but Pardew is hardly Ashley’s polar opposite. As much as it might suit him at times to come down on the side of public, anti-owner sentiment he is on record several times as not only condoning Ashley’s approach but actually endorsing it.

In October he dedicated a win to Ashley. A couple of months before that he put his name to a statement that supported Joe Kinnear’s efforts in the summer transfer window – business that we now know was putting him on a fast-track to a hasty exit from the club.

Indeed at every step of the way he publicly supported Kinnear, including last week after his exit when he incredibly claimed that the director of football had done a “good job”.

Having established that Pardew is supportive of Ashley, it is more difficult to ascertain whether the support filters through the other way. It’s funny really, in all the programme notes that were written for Kinnear during his eight laughable months at the club Pardew was never really picked out for praise.

In January’s minutes for the club’s fans forum John Irving and Lee Charnley did not mention Pardew by name once. What does that say?

It is not just in their words that Newcastle fail to offer Pardew backing. Two successive transfer windows without investing money recouped from other sales speaks of a lack of faith in the manager – as does failing to heed his request of a new contract for James Perch. On the face of it, it looks like the oldest trick in the manager-owner book: starve the boss of funds, watch them stumble and then move to take action. Steve Bruce, successful on his last trip to the North East, was subjected to something similar by Ellis Short back in 2011 and didn’t last past the autumn.

A couple of years back, Pardew said that the relationship between owner and manager is the most important at any football club. Well what of his? It appears to have fallen into distrust and the club is suffering for it. This feels like the longest goodbye.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer